It seems counterintuitive that an important market for Irish agriculture could also be a major competitor. But despite the great distance that separates them, a lucrative commercial relationship exists between Ireland and New Zealand.
The two countries share strong historical links, innumerable social and cultural ties and, in many cases, deep personal connections that help business relationships.
With a long history in farming, agribusiness has emerged as a key pillar of Irish innovation and today several of our companies are world leaders in their specialised fields.
So it should come as no surprise that New Zealand, a country in which agriculture accounts for about 60pc of exports and is the largest part of the tradeable economy, should be a market for specialist Irish equipment.
New Zealanders are hugely impressed with the inventiveness of Irish agribusiness and the supports around it such as the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, which provides breeding information to the dairy and beef industries.
A drive for research and innovation has long been a feature of the sector in Ireland, with robust investments in education, animal health, farm equipment and management technology, seed production and plant genetics. These offerings are greatly in demand in New Zealand’s arable farming and livestock industry in particular. Ireland’s presence for the tenth consecutive year at the recent New Zealand National Fieldays – akin to the Ploughing Championships – is testament to the importance of this market for Irish agribusiness.
National Fieldays provides a platform for companies to meet thousands of potential customers from all over New Zealand. The connections made during the week provide valuable insights into the needs of the local market. This year, five Irish companies exhibited on the Ireland stand, with a further 11 displaying independently or with local partners.
Exhibits included electronic calving sensor Moocall and Cross Agricultural’s beet processing machinery.
Irish manufacturers have built up a strong reputation for high-quality, reliable machinery at a competitive price. Balers from McHale, mulchers from Malone, mixer wagons from Keenan, tankers from Abbey and wrappers from Tanco are well known.
Attachments also have appeal. Dromone hitches, Brian Scott buckets and ProDig grabs and forks are building good presences here. Tractor-powered and towed implements in particular have proven their ability to withstand the demands of a New Zealand farm.
Irish companies specialising in facilities are also doing well. Dairymaster has developed world-class dairy equipment for any parlour, Kingspan supply insulation of all specifications and Crowley Engineering offer turn-key solutions for dry bulk-handling industries such as feed milling and grain storage.
Products developed for Irish agriculture are generally a good fit here. Farm sizes are similar, both industries are pastoral-based, premium-quality orientated and highly export-focused. And like Ireland, New Zealand is moving away from bulk commodity exports to more consumer-oriented, processed output.
Innovation is key to the future development of the industry in both countries and with no subsidies, New Zealand farmers are highly business-focused and open to anything that makes their operations more efficient.
So Irish exporters will get a good hearing here. The most successful ones have built long-lasting relationships with distributors with the local networks and necessary resources to cover the market. Separate entry strategies for the North and South islands should be considered.
Delivering good after-sales service is essential for repeat business. Frontline support like maintenance and breakdowns is best handled locally, while more complex issues around software or technology can be supported from Ireland.
Opportunities for collaboration between Ireland and New Zealand – from research, advice, inputs, production and final product -unquestionably exist in this healthy and stable economy. As the Maori saying goes, Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi (“With your basket and my basket, the people will live”).
Mary Kinnane is Enterprise Ireland director for Australia/New Zealand.
This article originally appeared in the Sunday Independent.